Courland (Ger. Kurland), one of the Baltic provinces of Russia, bounded N. by the gulf of Riga and Livonia, E. by the government of Vitepsk, S. by that of Kovno, and W. by the Baltic; area, 10,555 sq. m.; pop. in 1867, 597,-288. The face of the country is level, but interspersed with some hills, the highest of which has an elevation of 700 ft. The province contains many forests, especially of pine and fir, and there are said to be no fewer than 300 lakes and ponds. Among the larger rivers are the Dtina, Aa, and Windau; and there are many small streams and brooks. The soil is not rich, but when properly tilled is productive. The principal products are wheat, rye, barley, oats, peas, beans, hemp, flax, and linseed. Clay, iron, lime, and gypsum are found, and are wrought to some extent. The manufactures are unimportant. The province is formed of the old duchies of Courland and Semgallia, united with the ancient bishopric of Pilten and the district of Polangen, which once formed part of the duchy of Lithuania. It is divided into six circles.
It has two shipping ports, Libau and Windau. Capital, Mitau. The Protestants number 486,815, and their ecclesiastical affairs are conducted by the consistory of Mitau. There are about 18,000 members of the Greek church and 55,335 Roman Catholics, who together possess but 19 churches, and are subject respectively to the bishops of Pskov and Samogitia. There are 35,841 Jews, and many Poles, Russians, and residents of various other nationalities, among whom are the Krevins, a race of Finnish descent. The nobility and the city population, and the higher classes generally, are of German descent, numbering about 77,000, while the peasantry and the lower classes are chiefly of Lettish origin. A provincial diet, composed exclusively of nobles, meets annually at Mitau. - Courland, having been together with Livonia Christianized and for centuries ruled by the knights sword-bearers, became a temporal hereditary duchy under Ketteler, the last grand master, about 1560, as a dependency of the Polish crown. Ketteler introduced the reformation.
By the marriage in 1710 of Duke Frederick William with the princess Anna Ivanovna of Russia, the influence of that empire became predominant in Courland. It was strengthened in the following year, when after the duke's death Anna was appointed regent, under the protection of Peter the Great. After Anna's accession to the Russian throne in 1730, her uncle Ferdinand officiated as duke of Courland until his death in 1737. Subsequently the duchy was ruled by Anna's favorite, the adventurer Biron, who died in 1772, and bequeathed it to his eldest son Peter. The latter, failing to give satisfaction to the country, was obliged to cede Courland to Catharine II. in 1795. Since that time it has formed part of Russia, though retaining some ancient privileges.